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Teachers Should Introduce Word Problems to Students Sooner, Study Finds

Teachers Should Introduce Word Problems to Students Sooner, Study Finds

A new study finds that introducing word problems to students in the beginning of a math lesson would be more beneficial for students through middle school and college.

Word problems, according to an article on, “are often considered one of the most challenging tasks in a beginning algebra class, with students likely to stumble over the move from the clean, basic formula to applying it in a real context.”

“Early on, symbols are barriers to learning,” said Mitchell J. Nathan, an educational psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Even with no context, word problems provide powerful informal problem-solving strategies, and language itself provides an entry point to mathematical reasoning that is highly superior to the algebraic equation.”

Nathan, the article said, “is one of a group of researchers who want to rescue word problems from the back of the textbooks,” the article said. Nathan and his colleagues Martha W. Alibali, an educational psychology professor, Kenneth R. Koedinger, a professor of human-computer interaction and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and more are “developing an intervention called ‘Bridging Instruction’ to help students and teachers use word problems more flexibly.”

The group also conducted a similar study where "high school teachers predicted students would have more difficulty with math problems presented as stories or non-narrative word problems than with those presented as symbol equations."

The researchers found, according to the article, "that teachers with a higher background in math—those who had majored in mathematics or physics, for instance—were more likely to think students would struggle more with math word problems than equations. Teachers with a lower math background and those who struggled in math themselves were more likely to believe students would struggle with stand-alone equations."

“It is a real wake-up call,” Nathan said. “Should we be getting rid of formal equations? Of course not. But we should be asking: When should students be given tasks to master different types of mathematical reasoning?”

Read the full story and comment below. 

Article by Kassondra Granata, Education World Contributor

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